By George A. Hancock
February is our last full winter month. A point many road runners appreciate. Running on icy snow-covered roads gets old quick. Outside runners are moving about with a cautious eye. Winter road maintenance for numerous reasons is never the same from one community to the next.
Thankfully, the last several years featured milder winters. A check of my records reveals 2015 was the last February with any sub-zero runs. There were six that year. The coldest run for me was on February 24, 2015 at -18F. That date is my coldest-ever run. I really don’t miss those cold days.
So, running along the road during these milder and waning winter days is revealing. Unfortunately, what’s revealed is a very expensive issue. I often call my morning runs crumbling-day runs. And, I’m not talking about crumbling cookies.
It seems all my running roads with a few exceptions are crumbling. Pennsylvania’s freeze-thaw cycle severely damages unprepared roads. The roads, streets, highways, and byways that have crumbled segments take a significant hit during the winter season.
The exception is those state roads maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot). The best maintained roads I run on in my area are state roads. PennDot has the resources and manpower to complete road tasks.
Old State Route 56 meanders through my borough. The state replaced a deficient bridge here last year. The extensive project included these details: two bridges were removed, a new road and bridge were constructed. Plus this roadway was straightened. A small nasty curve was removed. There is a great sightline there now. And, this project included work around Little Paint Creek that flows beneath this new bridge.
This was a multi-million dollar project. My borough does not have those financial resources. If this was a local road, that work never would happen. Ergo, why I run along so many crumbing roads.
I run outside during every weather pattern. A rain run is illuminating. Water runoff during heavy rainstorms seeps beneath those broken road sections and deep fissures. The force of that water moves those broken sections. The road fissures become bigger cracks. It’s a never-ending erosion cycle unless routine road maintenance is completed. So, what’s the solution?
Please refer back to the preceding paragraph. Municipalities like my borough lack the resources, the manpower to assess and correct these issues.
Does this really mean anything for runners and walkers? Yes, it does. The Covid-19 virus pandemic has more people out and about during warmer weather. These folks are not familiar with crumbling road issues. A runner, walker, or bike rider not familiar with troubled areas could suffer the bloody, bruising consequences.
For example, I’m an experienced road runner. I run in reflective gear with a hand-held light. Yet, last September my left running shoe hit a piece of broken macadam. My light never picked it up or I was looking ahead. I was slammed into the road. My left knee hit first followed by my right hand and shoulder. It was a bloody mess. The knee was bleeding and the right hand was sore. I resumed my run after a few moments.
I learned something that morning. I was running in shorts while wearing gloves. The temperature was about 34 F. The cold stopped the bleeding. But, the blood froze on my knee and leg. I had to scrub well to remove that dried frozen blood. This was a good learning experience.
I’m noticing significant road damage during these mild winter thaws. Please run alert if you reside in a region like mine with questionable road surfaces. Kissing the macadam roads is never fun. Nor is getting nudged by a vehicle swerving around these broken road sections.
Of course, potholes are an entirely different story. Most grow so big around Greater Johnstown that missing one is nearly impossible.
I’ve witnessed numerous vehicles hitting these potholes during my running years. The vehicle damage is nasty at times. Blown tires, exhaust damage, plus front-end damage are all expensive. I’m running past some sizable potholes now. These were all reported by numerous individuals. However, at this writing, little can be done to correct these issues. These repairs require warmer weather and money.
So, we are left to tread carefully around these crumbling road issues. Run with an open eye. It’s a great idea to scan the road surface frequently. Carrying a light source is also a good idea. This thought benefits morning and evening runners more than noon runners. Running in the daylight makes these obstacles more visible.
It’s possible to have enjoyable, safe daily runs. We just need to be aware of our surroundings and road surfaces. Please run well, run smart, and stay safe.